Ethically managing risks in global health fieldwork: Human rights ideals confront real world challenges

Rachel Hall-Clifford, Robert Cook-Deegan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Global health is an interdisciplinary field engaged with implementation of the human right to health, yet ethical dimensions of the on-the-ground realities of this work have been underexplored. Fieldwork in global health produces knowledge through both primary research and the lessons of practical program implementation. Much of this essential knowledge, which often documents health disparities and other human rights abuses, arises from work in dangerous contexts. Work in such environments entails risk to all participants in the global health enterprise, both local and foreign, but affects them differently. The risks of ethical fieldwork must be considered not only for the well-being of project participants and fieldworkers but also in light of how they shape and constrain global health research and program implementation. Drawing on case examples from the authors’ fieldwork, this article marks an effort to begin disentangling the realities of risks in the field and the responsibility borne by the fieldworker to undertake ethical action, recognizing that decisions are often made without established protocols or the immediate availability of guidance from colleagues. We call for further engagement within global health on ethical issues distinctive to the complex and dangerous places in which the promise of a right to health is enacted in the real world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-18
Number of pages12
JournalHealth and human rights
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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